*Tony Kelly scores for Clare against Laois. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
Darach Honan says Clare’s qualifier is a chance for the hurlers to get their season back on track and points to Limerick’s weekend win over Tipperary as an outing which has put the Banner’s Munster loss into perspective.
I am often asked whether I miss playing since retirement. The answer is generally yes and especially on matchdays. However, as I watched the GAA at the weekend starting with Donegal and Tyrone battling it out during Storm Aidan for once my answer was a resounding NO. Conditions were brutal right across the country and the players deserve huge credit for performing in that.
From a Clare point of view, we knew that our next opponents would be a Leinster team. With Laois already in the pot the Clare hurlers will have been keeping a close eye on Galway v Wexford and Kilkenny v Dublin.
Kilkenny and Dublin both had periods of excellent play mixed with vulnerability at the back. The momentum that Dublin will have gained through their second half performance will stand to them. They will be a tough opponent in the qualifiers and on current form could pip Cork.
Wexford gave an insipid performance and were well beaten by a far superior Galway side. Galway played an attractive brand of hurling and got their best players on the ball in dangerous positions. Galway and Limerick are showing the best form in the country and play the game the right way. They are both physically strong and play a nice mix of direct hurling and working the ball through the lines.
Clare’s disappointing loss in the first round will be somewhat put into perspective with Limerick’s follow up beating of Tipperary. Tipperary, All-Ireland champions last year, were well beaten and only for some questionable decisions from the referee would have wound up losing by more. While questions were rightly asked about Clare’s performance, it is now clear that we are not the only team Limerick will have done that to this year.
Clare now have a chance to regroup and put together a string of performances in the qualifiers. Laois are next up, and they represent a good chance for Clare to right the ship. Earlier in the year when the sides faced off in the league, Clare were victorious on a score line of 0-17 to 0-09. While conditions were awful that day, it does highlight a weakness in Laois’s game. They tend to commit men in defence and can lose their scoring threat as a result.
One of the issues in Clare’s defeat to Limerick was our discipline and the coughing up of easy scores through lazy fouling in defence. If we can cut the number of frees that we concede significantly, it is questionable whether Laois will be able to score enough to win the game. As conditions are tough at this time of year it is far easier for a free taker to score unopposed than for a forward to score under pressure from the backs.
Brian Lohan will be looking for a more even spread of scores this weekend. Tony Kelly carried that burden almost singlehandedly against Limerick and it is time now for some of our other forwards to step up share that load. There may be personnel changes to address this issue and I would expect Aaron Cunningham and Aaron Shanagher particularly to see more game time than they did previously.
While this game represents a good opportunity, it will also be a tough battle. Laois have made huge progress under Eddie Brennan culminating last year in a big win over their Leinster rivals Dublin. Laois will not fear Clare and will consider this a good draw for them. The game is to be played in Nowlan Park which is a tight field. They are a physically strong team and may see Clare as a team which they can dominate. Our lads will have to be prepared first to win the physical battle and then the match. It is a challenge I expect them to rise to and hopefully will be the first of a series of results we can put together to get our season back on track.